Sometimes the best way to get to the truth is to lie.
Early in my teaching career, a mentor provided me with what I consider to be the best advice of my teaching career: Lie. If a student is having trouble understanding a concept using standard methods, tell them a lie that they will accept. Then, once they have accepted a part of a truth and internalized it, it is easier to correct the lie with the full truth.
I thought my mentor was nuts. At first. When I tried it with a student that was blocked on a concept, it worked so well, that it changed me as an educator. The point my mentor was trying to show me was that teaching is not about focusing on the Truth of the material, rather it is about focusing on the Mind of the student. Figure out what the student will accept and use that as a starting point on a path to deeper understanding.
My new friend, B.I., a former educator and current Security Awareness professional, has also seen this work well not only with her students, but with herself, “We used to call it reverse psychology in the 60’s.” She likens the approach to the established teaching method of “moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar—if you can state something in terms the learner knows well, they are much more receptive to adaptation.”
Lying in such a way as to use it as a springboard to the truth can work very well in Security Awareness when used with students who are resisting new knowledge. If you need a student to accept technical details in order to move forward with training but the student is resisting, you can figure out how the technical details are being perceived and work with them (no matter how fictitious those details might be). Once the student is past their barrier and successfully learning, you can go back and correct the details once the student is on the other side of them and has a better perspective.
There are two obvious traps to avoid: fictions too strange to turn around, and feelings of betrayal. I learned to spot these traps pretty quickly. Not every perception can be corrected after the fact, and not every student will accept finding out that you lied to them. In my experience, these are not common issues, but issues to watch out for. For fiction that is “too far out there”, see if you can shift the student’s fiction a little into something that you can correct afterwards. For students that might end up feeling betrayed, you will have to manage the trust relationship and come to an understanding.
Despite the potential pitfalls of lying, my mentor’s lesson stands firm: focus on the Mind of your student and you will not stray far from success.
Have you used something like this? Tell us about your experiences in the comment section.
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